La Vie Promise
Directed by Olivier Dahan. Starring Isabelle Huppert, Pascal Greggory, Maud Forget, Fabienne Babe, André Marcon. (2002, NR, 89 min.)
REVIEWED By Steve Davis, Fri., May 28, 2004
The French road movie La Vie Promise is languorous to the point of being lazy – it doesn’t expend a whole lot of effort on plot or characterization. Beginning with an abrupt accidental killing and ending with a figurative ride into the sunset, it will have you scratching your head on more than one occasion as you try to decipher its whos, whats, wheres, whys, and hows. Its three principal characters, bound together by blood and chance, are strangers to one another: a selfish streetwalker with a mysterious past, the unwanted teenaged daughter who falls back into her life, and the escaped convict who befriends them both. They’re a family of sorts, thrown together by need in one way or another, but the film never allows their eventual bonding to emotionally register. The focus of this triangle is Sylvia (Huppert), a prostitute who is, among other things, a compulsive liar, thief, pill addict, and near-sociopath. Her rude treatment of Laurence (Forget), the illegitimate daughter she spurns, is short of maternal, to say the least. What’s interesting about Sylvia is her unsettling passivity. Huppert is the perfect choice for the role; she’s made a career of playing women who are human tabula rasas. But while Sylvia’s apathy is an interesting character trait, it doesn’t make for compelling viewing. (Add to this her slow recovery of lost memories about her marriage, a baby son, and a life in the country, and Huppert is required to look positively zombielike sometimes.) Director Dahan often resorts to pastoral images (often striking, usually banal) to segue from scene to scene, as well as to serve as a backdrop for voiceover narration. (Has there ever been a French movie without voiceover narration?) And what’s with the floral analogies in many of those voiceovers – do they refer to the plant life around Ghost River, the place near the mountains where Sylvia thinks she’ll find refuge? It’s all very "Qu’est-ce c’est." About the only thing that makes any sense in La Vie Promise is Huppert’s face, a visage that has aged in the most extraordinary way. She looks like a Gallic Amy Madigan, only more refined and striking. La Vie Promise may not make for the best way to spend 90 minutes in a movie theatre, but there are worse ways to spend your time compared to looking at la Huppert.